Our Redeemer's Christian School boys basketball coach Jeremy Feller strayed from the norm during the first practice of the season on Nov. 18.
Instead of using the 6 a.m. practice time to focus on offense, the Knights worked primarily on fundamentals and defense. It wasn't until three days later that Feller shifted his focus to the opposite end of the court.
"The biggest thing we need to work on is staying fundamentally sound and staying with our defense," Feller said. "Defense is going to lead to offense. When we had success last year that's what happened - our defense got us easy offense. That's what we're pushing for this year, too, that our kids really need to get at it defensively and hopefully make it easier on them."
Our Redeemer’s Christian School senior guard Nick Stenvold goes up for a contested layup during a scrimmage Tuesday at ORCS.
That mindset led the Knights to a program-high 15 wins and just their third Region 6 tournament appearance their first in six years. Now, ORCS is itching to experience the same success this year.
"It definitely motivates us because we liked that atmosphere," junior forward Davis Koppinger said. "We really want to get back there and win a couple games."
Koppinger is the lone junior on a youthful 12-player roster. The Knights have three seniors Nick Stenvold, Micah Jacobsen and Cole Zaderaka. Jacobsen was among the starting five last year and Koppinger and Stenvold provided quality minutes off the bench. All three will be key contributors again this year.
Meet the Knights
Seniors - Nick Stenvold, Micah Jacobsen, Cole Zaderaka
Junior - Davis Koppinger
Sophomores - Josh VanLith, John Reiten, Nathan Demme, Dalton Steede, Ben Talley
Freshmen - Brett Nunziato, Jaydon Mehlhoff, Taylor Strand
December - 3, vs. TGU, 7:15 p.m.; 7, at Parshall, 3 p.m.; 10-14, at Velva Invite, TBA; 17, at Bottineau, 7:15 p.m.; 30, vs. Munich-Starkweather, 8 p.m.
January - 3, vs. Shiloh Christian at Shiloh Invite, 9:30 a.m.; 4. vs. Trinity Christian at Shiloh Invite, 4 p.m.; 7, at Velva, 7:15 p.m.; 9, vs. Kenmare, 7:15 p.m.; 11, at Max, 7:30 p.m.; 14, vs. Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, 7:15 p.m.; 17, at Glenburn, 7:15 p.m.; 20, vs. Sawyer, 7:15 p.m.; 23, at Berthold, 7:15 p.m.; 28, vs. Des Lacs-Burlington, 7:15 p.m.
February - 1, vs. Surrey at Minot Auditorium, 5:30 p.m.; 4, at Bishop Ryan, 7:15 p.m.; 13-15, District 12 tournament at Minot Auditorium, TBA; 24-27, Region 6 tournament at Minot Auditorium, TBA.
March - 6-8, state tournament in Grand Forks.
Freshmen and sophomores account for two-thirds of the roster, but what ORCS lacks in experience, its makes up for in speed. The Knights will continue their run-and-gun offense from the last few seasons.
"Biggest strength is our speed," Stenvold said. "That's definitely our thing. We're going to wear teams down. We also have height, too, which is going to help us a lot."
While the Knights may score the bulk of their points in transition, Feller hopes his team recognizes the proper times to pull the ball out and set up its half-court offense. Feller said his team would take shots early in the shot clock last year instead of running plays when the transition game didn't lead to layups.
"Talent-wise, we feel we can compete with just about anybody, but it's ultimately going to come down to playing together and learning roles," Feller said. "The sooner we can learn what our role is on the team, the more success we're going to have this year."
If the uptempo style doesn't pan out, the Knights have plenty of height in the lane with sophomores Dalton Steede (6-foot-8), John Reiten (6-6) and Ben Talley (6-4). But ORCS hasn't been able to work on its inside game as Steede's been sick and Talley is coming back from injury.
"We feel we have size," Feller said. "The guards, we feel we have kids that can shoot the ball and obviously we feel we have some fast kids. That's kind of a nice combination there that if we can get them on the same page, success will come."
Feller, Koppinger and Stenvold all agreed Des Lacs-Burlington is the frontrunner in District 12 after returning the bulk of its roster from last year, but said the rest of the field is wide open.
"It's a pretty competitive district," Koppinger said. "There's going to be a lot of close games and I think we're going to have to play our best if we want to get some wins."
The Knights finished 5-3 in district play last season and earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.